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Labor and Social Protection

South Asia can get more women to work

Hiska Reyes's picture
 World Bank
South Asian countries are making progress in clearing the way for women to get jobs and creating a safer work environment for them. Yet, too many women across South Asia are left out of the workforce—and that despite booming economic growth. Credit: World Bank

This blog is part of a series examining women’s economic empowerment in South Asia. Starting today on International Women's Day and over the next few weeks, we will be exploring successful interventions, research, and experience to improve gender equality across the region. 

Meet Fazeela Dharmaratne from Sri Lanka.
 
Her story, like that of millions of other women in South Asia, is one of struggle between family and work and a story worth telling as we mark International Women’s Day.
 
Unlike too many of her female peers, Fazeela was able to reinvent herself professionally.
 
As a young woman, straight out of school, she joined a bank in Colombo as a banking assistant. In 17 years, she climbed up the corporate ladder to become regional manager—a position she later quit to care for her children.
 
Unfazed, Fazeela started her own small home-based daycare business in 2012, initially serving only 4-5 children. Today, Fazeela is the director of the CeeBees pre-school and childcare centers serving several corporate clients in Colombo.
 
Fazeela’s success belies the fact that across South Asia too many women are left out of the workforce—and that despite booming economic growth.
 
And while employment rates have gone down across the region, women account for most of this decline.
 
Between 2005 and 2015, women’s employment declined by 5 percent a year in India, 3 percent a year in Bhutan, and 1 percent a year in Sri Lanka.
 
These numbers are worrying because a drop in female employment has important social costs.
 
First, when women control a greater share of household incomes, children are healthier and do better in school.
 
Second, when women work for pay, they have a greater voice in their households, in their communities, and society.
 
Conversely, the economic gains from women participating equally in the labor market are sizable.
 
A recent study by the International Monetary Fund estimated that closing gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship in South Asia would help grow the economy by about 25 percent. 
 
The good news is that South Asian countries are making progress in clearing the way for women to get jobs and creating a safer work environment for them.  

Sri Lanka’s women want to work—and thrive in the workplace

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
A woman hand painting fabric in a local Batik fabric factory
A Sri Lankan woman is hand painting fabric in a local Batik fabric factory. Matale, Sri Lanka. Credit: Shutterstock. January 3, 2017.

It’s International Women’s Day today, and there is a lot to celebrate in Sri Lanka and beyond.

Being a woman, mother, sister, aunt – name it, it’s something women wake up to daily and they love it.  None of them question about being enumerated for these roles.  We marvel and revel in the roles. 

But make no mistake. Women are also very capable breadwinners, contributors to the economies, innovators and entrepreneurs amongst many other roles.

Women want to work, and they want to stay in the workplace. 

What they seek is balance: a gender-balanced workplace, a gender-balanced management, and more gender-balance in sharing wealth and prosperity. 

In that sense, it’s heartening to see some of the proposals put forth in the government of Sri Lanka’s budget: more daycare centers, flexible work hours, and incentives to promote maternity leave. 

These are very welcome changes to think equal, build smart, innovate for change—the 2019 International Women's Day campaign theme—and we encourage those with jobs to implement these policy changes. 

This year, let me share with you a quick analysis of five laws that Sri Lankan women and their advocates have identified as constraining for joining the workforce and staying there! 

Skilling up Bangladeshi women

Tashmina Rahman's picture
Learning new skills for better jobs in Bangladesh: Meet Kamrul Nahar Omi


The Bangladesh garments industry is poised to grow into a $50 billion industry by 2021 and for this, two million semi-skilled workers are needed.

Non-garment industries such as leather, furniture, hospitality and Information & Technology (IT) are also poised to grow.

But how can we think equal, build smart, innovate for change, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day? 

Female participation in the workforce has been increasing but remains less than half of male participation rates across primary working ages.

Of those females joining work, over 80 percent are engaged in low-skilled, low-productivity jobs in the informal sector with little opportunity for career progression.

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is one important medium to equip women with employable skills and improve their job market participation.  

Overcoming the perception of TVET as ‘male-dominated’ training, women’s participation in technical programs has been steadily rising over the past decade.

Yet, Bangladesh still has a long way to go with female share in enrollments around 25 percent in TVET programs.

In fact, a World Bank study identifies some keys areas of intervention for improving female participation in technical diploma programs:

  1. creating a gender-friendly environment in polytechnics and workplaces;
  2. developing more service-orientated diploma programs;
  3. developing a TVET awareness campaign for females;
  4. (supporting a career counseling and guidance system for females;
  5. improving access to higher education;
  6. providing demand-stimulating incentives; (vii) generating research and knowledge;
  7. leveraging partnerships to promote opportunities for females and
  8. generating more and better data to track progress and inform policy and operations for female-friendly TVET. 

How to succeed as Sri Lanka’s top woman entrepreneur: Honesty, hard work, and perseverance

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
This International Women’s Day I chose to have a conversation with a lady who is recognized as the leading Sri Lankan woman entrepreneur, Mrs. Aban Pestonjee.  

Her story is an inspiration to youth (male and female) and women who are afraid of failure and taking risks.

Starting from a modest home-based business, 50 years ago, today Aban is a household brand name that is island wide in Sri Lanka.

The rise of India’s rural women entrepreneurs

Balakrishnan Madhavan Kutty's picture
Women at the custard apple collection centre
Women at the custard apple collection center. Photo credit: Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad (RGAVP), Govt. of Rajasthan

Pehle mein apne ghar ka paanch hazaar (rupaye) mein bhi kharcha nahi chala paati thi, abh mein pandrah hazaar rupaye mein ghar ka kharcha chalati hu.

“Earlier I was not able to contribute even Rs. 5,000 ($69) to run my house. Today, I contribute Rs. 15,000 ($208),” beams Lakshmi Amol Shinde from Wardha Lakshmi as she recalls the harsh financial conditions she and her family faced after her husband lost his job.

This unexpected event motivated her to join a self-help group (SHG) and take out a loan to start a small snack (papad) business.

Initially, she sold her food delicacies in her village. Later, she expanded her business and catered to shops in Nagpur, Maharashtra’s winter capital.

Her hard work paid off, and eleven women from her group joined Lakshmi’s flourishing business.

Thanks to business and marketing training, the women’s business has grown and is now processing the famous turmeric from Waigaon, another town in the district.

What’s keeping India in the dark?

Fan Zhang's picture
To boost and sustain its energy supply, India needs urgent investments and reforms to fix the inefficiencies that plague its entire electricity supply chain.
To boost and sustain its energy supply, India needs urgent investments and reforms to fix the inefficiencies that plague its entire electricity supply chain. Credit: World Bank

Statistics show that what is commonly perceived as an energy gap in India is actually an efficiency gap.

To boost and sustain its energy supply, India needs urgent investments and reforms to fix the inefficiencies that plague its entire electricity supply chain. 

But first, the good news. In 2018, every village in India got connected to the grid.  That same year, power shortages declined dramatically to 0.9 percent from 8.5 percent in 2012.  

As for clean power, India has become one of the world’s leading countries in renewable energy and aims to add 227 gigawatts of green electricity by 2022.

True, India today generates more power than ever. Yet, 178 million Indians still lived without access to grid-connected electricity in 2017.

On top of that, air pollution from coal-powered plants contributed to 82,900 deaths across India in 2015.

Given its rapidly growing economy, demand for power in India is expected to triple by 2040.

The country faces a monumental task to meet this demand while protecting its natural environment and the health of its people.

As I write in my new report, ‘In the Dark’, power distortions cost India much more than previously estimated: $86 billion in 2016—that is 4 percent of the country’s economy.

The rising cost of nutritious food in South Asia

Felipe F. Dizon's picture
 World Bank
A malnourished child will face poorer outcomes as an adult. In South Asia, where malnutrition persists in multiple forms, improving nutrition in the early stages of life is critical to a child's future development and health. Credit: World Bank

A malnourished child will face poorer outcomes as an adult.
 
That’s why improving nutrition, especially in the early stages of life, is critical.
 
The path toward better nutrition includes adequate maternal and child care, access to better sanitation facilities, health services, and naturally, nutritious foods.
 
But whether an individual consumes—or not—nutritious food is contingent upon a myriad of factors, ranging from the availability of certain foods, how convenient they can be turned into meals, or simply, if they meet consumers’ tastes.
 
But above all, the high cost of food remains the most critical barrier to proper nutrition and affects the poor more than the rich.
 
And in South Asia, where malnutrition persists in multiple forms, the cost of nutritious food is prohibitive.

India: Building trust in local governance institutions in Bihar’s villages

Farah Zahir's picture
Sushumlata, the head of the gram panchayat of Dawan village, Bhojpur District, Bihar, conducts a meeting at the newly furbished panchayat office.
Sushumlata, the head of the gram panchayat of Dawan village, Bhojpur District, Bihar, conducts a meeting at the newly furbished panchayat office.


In a remote village in Bihar’s Bhojpur district, Sushumlata sits behind a spanking new desk in a newly-refurbished government building.

From the time she came to the village as a new bride, this young woman has chosen to get involved in community affairs by joining the Self Help Group (SHG) movement.

Later, armed with a master’s degree in social work, she joined active politics and, in 2016, was elected the Mukhiya, or head of the Dawan village Gram Panchayat – the local governance institution – under the seat reserved for women.

Sushumlata is the face of the government in this remote corner of Bihar. When we visit her in the newly upgraded Gram Panchayat building – refurbished under the World Bank (IDA) funded Bihar Panchayat Strengthening Project – she tells us how the newly painted and equipped building has made a difference.

A young man is busy on a computer beside her, helping an elderly gentleman apply for a government pension.

South Asia: A bright spot in darkening economic skies?

Hartwig Schafer's picture
South Asia is set to remain relatively insulated from some of the rising uncertainties that are looming large on the global economic horizon. The region will retain its top spot as the world’s fastest-growing region. The Siddhirganj Power Project in Bangladesh. Credit: Ismail Ferdous/World Bank

If, like me, you’re a firm believer in New Year’s resolutions, early January ushers in the prospect of renewed energy and exciting opportunities. And as tradition has it, it’s also a time to enter the prediction game.
 
Sadly, when it comes to the global economy, this year’s outlook is taking a somber turn.
 
In the aptly titled Darkening Skies, the World Bank’s new edition of its twice-a-year Global Economic Prospects report shows that risks are looming large on the economic horizon.
 
To sum up:  In emerging market and developing economies, the lingering effects of recent financial market stress on several large economies, a further deceleration in commodity exporters are likely to stall growth at a weaker-than-expected 4.2 percent this year.
 
On a positive note, South Asia is set to remain relatively insulated from some of these rising global uncertainties and will retain its top spot as the world’s fastest-growing region.
 
Bucking the global decelerating trend, growth in South Asia is expected to accelerate to 7.1 percent in 2019 from 6.9 percent in the year just ended, bolstered in part by stronger investments and robust consumption.  

Among the region’s largest economies, India is forecast to grow at 7.5 percent in fiscal year 2019-20 while Bangladesh is expected to moderate to 7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19. Sri Lanka is seen speeding up slightly to 4 percent in 2019.
 
Notably, and despite increasing conflicts and growing fragility, Afghanistan is expected to increase its growth to  2.7 percent rate this year.

In this otherwise positive outlook, Pakistan’s growth is projected to slow to 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19 as the country is tightening its financial conditions to help counter rising inflation and external vulnerabilities.

However, activity is projected to rebound and average 4.6 percent over the medium term.

New year with a fresh start: Addressing urban poverty in Bangladesh

Wameq Azfar Raza's picture


Although Bangladesh has achieved much in the way of poverty reduction and human development, progress has been slower in some urban areas.

Issues such as slow-down of quality job growth, low levels of educational attainment (notably among the youth), and lack of social protection measures have taken the wind out of the proverbial urban reduction “sail.” As the country starts fresh in the new year, it is an opportune time to reflect on some of the key issues affecting urban poverty.

Despite the steady growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), successive Household Income and Expenditure Surveys (2005 to 2010 and 2010 to 2016) suggest that the rate of poverty reduction has been slowing down while the absolute number of extreme poor have been increasing in urban Bangladesh. Given the accelerating rate of urbanization, it suggests that more people live in extreme poverty in 2016 than they did in 2010. With nearly 44% of the country’s population projected to be living in an urban setting by 2050, this issue is only likely to intensify.  

Several factors may be driving this trend. Absence of education and skills dampen labor market participation and productivity. Among those who participate in the labor-force in urban areas, 19% of men and 28% of women are illiterate. For those who received at least some training, a recent study shows that only 51% of eighth-grade students met equivalent competency in the native language subject (Bangla). The figures were markedly lower for other subjects. Similar trends carry through to technical diploma and tertiary level institutes. As a result, many prospective employers report reluctance to hiring fresh graduates.

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